CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ten games in most seasons for the Browns, the big question is, are they firing the coach after the season? Or do they fire the coach and the general manager?
Given that no Browns coach has lasted more than two seasons since Romeo Crennel (2005-08), stop me when I lie about the winds of change blowing in Berea as December approaches.
But not this year.
Yes, there are six games left. In the COVID-19 season, when you don’t know who will be eligible to play from week to week, a lot can quickly go wrong. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who had 10 players on the Reserve / COVID-19 roster on Friday morning. They lost three of the four games, cutting their record to 6-4 after a 5-1 start.
The Browns (7-3) therefore have a better record than the Ravens. Who would have believed that after being spanked 38-6 in Baltimore to open the season?
I know the Browns played “a weak schedule”. But I also know that they haven’t disappointed against a bad team this season. I know they have a rookie head coach who has overcome major obstacles without mini-camps or preseason games to lead the Browns to that position.
This man is Kevin Stefanski.
“He’s got a firm hand,” said star running back Nick Chubb. “It’s like he doesn’t really care about everything. … He knows that everything will be fine, so we all follow him.
Chubb sprang from Stefanski.
“He’s a good fitter,” said the running back. “He’s an excellent player. What he says he’s going to call he calls. He does not think elsewhere. It stays on the game sheet.
This is not always the case with head coaches, especially young people. Falling behind in a game or facing adversity can lead to panic and bizarre training decisions. Stefanski remains calm.
Everything I write should be qualified by these words: things can change.
But right now, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam have the “roster” they’ve wanted for years. COO Paul DePodesta led the research that brought CEO Andrew Berry and Stefanski to town.
THE CALLAHAN FACTOR
One of Stefanski’s first signings was Bill Callahan, the former Washington and Raiders head coach. He also looks like the world’s greatest offensive line coach. Callahan, 64, has an office right next to Stefanski, 38. That’s what the head coach wanted. They talk often.
Callahan was hired to install the zone blocking system, to speed up the running game, and to be a calming voice for a trainer who knows it’s necessary. He helped Jedrick Wills Jr. go from right tackle in Alabama to left tackle in the NFL – an intimidating adjustment for most. But Wills pulled it off, and he was recently named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Week.
Assisting in the draft, Callahan said he’s convinced Wills could be a left tackle. The Browns ranked Wills as their No. 1 tackle in the draft.
JUST WAIT IT WILL POP
“We have to beat them with patience.”
According to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, that’s what Callahan said earlier in the week when talking about the Browns’ powerful running game.
“We just have to be patient,” Van Pelt said. “We know things will eventually explode.”
The Browns are third in rushing attempts this season, and also third in rushing yards per game. They die out along with Kareem Hunt and Chubb, indeed beating patiently as the game progresses.
Some figures to take stock of the racing game:
1. The Browns are averaging 4.5 yards in the first half, 5.3 yards in the second half.
2. In the fourth quarter, the Browns averaged 6.5 yards per carry. They’ve rushed for five of their 10 rushing touchdowns this season in the fourth quarter.
3. Then there’s Chubb averaging 14.3 yards per carry in the fourth quarter! Yes, 14.3 yards per carry with the game in play.
4. Hunt rushed for 5.3 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, better than any other quarter for the Willoughby South product.
THE WISE MAN
With his long gray beard and his career as a player and coach in the NFL, Stump Mitchell, 61, looks like a guru of the racing game. He has the title of “racing game coordinator”. Part of his job is figuring out when to play Hunt or Chubb.
“He does a remarkable job of understanding these guys and where they are,” Stefanski said, explaining how he leans on Mitchell’s advice in terms of sharing litter between the two star backers. But these are also the personalities of Chubb and Hunt, and how they are willing to embrace Mitchell and Stefanski’s coaching.
“I can come into the game at any time,” Chubb said. “(Hunt) can go anytime. We are always changing and not losing anything. … Kareem is an incredible player.
Hunt has rushed for 644 yards this season; Chubb is at 575. Chubb has missed four games with a knee injury. When they both play, the Browns are averaging 195 rushing yards.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE TUBA PLAYER
As Stefanski calls the games, he relies on Van Pelt, 50, to help him craft the game plan. Van Pelt is also working closely with Baker Mayfield, helping the QB change his footwork as he prepares to snap a center shot. He also needed to change Mayfield’s mindset.
They’ve been drilling Mayfield all season to avoid interceptions.
“We call them gifts,” Van Pelt said. “We don’t want to give anything to the defense. … You get what you value. We talk a lot about making good decisions and being okay with failure.
Then Van Pelt explained how “there is always an open guy”.
And who is he?
“The tuba player,” Van Pelt said. “If something bad happens, the tuba player in the second row of the stands is always open. So we can just throw it at him.
After throwing six interceptions in his first six games, Mayfield has thrown just one in the last four. The tuba player’s philosophy works.
I can’t keep up with all the defensive injuries the Browns suffered. It’s hard to remember young defensive backs Grant Delpit (Achilles) and Greedy Williams (shoulder) had to start. Neither of them played a cinch. Delpit is absent for the year; no word when Williams is back.
Myles Garrett (COVID-19) will miss his second game. Star defensive back Denzel Ward will be out for a few weeks with a calf injury. Linebacker Sione Takitaki and defensive end Porter Gustin (both COVID) will also be out this week.
Other people have gone missing on several occasions, including Ronnie Harrison, Karl Joseph, Kevin Johnson, Adrian Clayborn, Mack Wilson, Jacob Phillips, and Larry Ogunjobi.
No one will argue that the Browns have a dominant defense. But given the injuries and a start to the season where they consistently gave up 30 points, it looked like a disaster. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been a superb juggler, changing lineups and plans to keep things respectable.
Because Stefanski calls offensive plays and spends a lot of time with attacking, he depends on Woods, 50, who is like the head coach of defense.
The same goes with Mike Priefer, the 54-year-old special teams coach.
The Browns have found a way to make front desk staff and coaches work together. Equally important, the coaches themselves have developed strong relationships and avoided internal fights, which has haunted the franchise at times.
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New Browns Masks for Sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Browns-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection for adults and youth, including a single mask ($ 14.99) and a 3-pack ( $ 24.99). All NFL profits have been donated to the CDC Foundation.